Who remembers learning about the food pyramid in school, or before that studying the different food groups and using pictures of meats, breads, dairy, fruits and veggies to create balanced meals? As we were growing up, we were told, “food is fuel,” “you are what you eat,” and “milk does a body good.” Then we were sent out into the real world to navigate a toxic soup of processed foods, genetically-modified produce and hormone-laden meat could make the healthiest person feel ill. Add to that our nation’s increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and healthy living can be heard to find.
Substance abuse takes over lives, causing everything else to take a backseat. Relationships, career, health – none of these are priorities during active addiction.
Throw in addiction, and nutrition goes right out the window. Substance abuse takes over lives, causing everything else to take a backseat. Relationships, career, health – none of these are priorities during active addiction. Add to that the problem that many people don’t get enough to eat or choose the right foods when they are preoccupied with their addiction. Even in recovery, as someone is seeking to return to health, there are other important issues to address.
Addiction and Nutrition
But make no mistake: Nutrition does matter. Those childhood lessons would serve us well today, especially for those in recovery. If poor nutrition and lack of exercise can have negative effects on an otherwise healthy person, imagine what they can do to someone battling an addiction to drugs or alcohol. You can’t be truly healthy if parts of you are still sick.
The problem is so prevalent that the American Dietetic Association (ADA) has officially recognized it, saying, “Many debilitating nutritional consequences result from drug and alcohol abuse. Chronic nutrition impairment causes serious damage to the liver and brain, which reinforces the craving for more drugs and alcohol and perpetuates the psychological aspect of addiction.”
Many of those who enter treatment walk through the doors with health issues related to their substance use. Their immune systems may be weakened. Muscle tone is compromised. Nutritional deficiencies are common. Skin tone, energy levels and sleep patterns may all be negatively affected.
When we think of the main components of substance abuse treatment, what usually comes to mind is group and individual therapy, the detox process and other “heart” work that helps to get to the root of the problem. Nutrition and exercise may seem like afterthoughts, but it’s a mistake to underestimate their importance.
What you eat during treatment can play an important role in recovery. The healing properties of organic fresh foods allow the body to reach a balance that helps to reduce cravings, create strength, calm emotions and bring clarity of mind. It’s the same with exercise. Working out, swimming, hiking or even a leisurely walk can help boost natural endorphin levels and regulate sleep patterns.
The experts agree. “Nutrition makes a difference in the rate and quality of physical recovery, which prepares individuals to function at a higher level in treatment – cognitively, mentally, and socially,” according to the ADA.
A Dual Diagnosis Approach
In the early days of addiction treatment, the individual’s substance abuse was focused on at the exclusion of all else. It was believed that this issue needed to be addressed before any other problems could be looked at. Today, most favor a “dual diagnosis” approach, which includes treating a variety of issues concurrently. Experts have learned that if they address co-occurring mental health issues like depression, trauma or anxiety while also exploring the addiction behavior, the whole person is treated and there is a much better chance of long-term recovery. In this way, they’re not just managing the symptoms of addiction; instead they’re seeing how all of these seemingly separate issues impact each other. Addressing physical health and nutrition at the same time ensure that the person in treatment has the strength and focus to do the work before them.
A Fresh Start
Residential treatment provides a perfect opportunity to start new habits related to food and exercise. In addition, holistic options in both residential and outpatient programs can enhance recovery. Adventure therapy, equine therapy, cooking classes and other holistic treatment methods can not just engage your mind and body, but they can also improve your health and make long-term recovery more likely. Focusing on fresh, whole foods gives someone the best possible fuel for their recovery journey and sets the stage for a healthy life post-treatment.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a co-occurring disorder, call us today. We’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can provide information on treatment programs, help with insurance and answer questions about the treatment process.